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Okay, so like every art school graduate of a Certain Age, I was (and still am) a devout Ingmar Bergman acolyte.

Scene from a bookshelf—mine.

There’s no Bergman I won’t watch again and again and pause the frame and use my little lecture pointer thingie to direct your attention to the way a vase is arranged meaningfully on the window sill. And I will KEEP going on in such a vein until the eyes of any listener within a thousand yards start to glaze over and they send up signal flares for rescue. Six hours of Death standing in a corner while Liv Ullmann (OR WHOEVER) gnaws a, oh, I don’t know, turkey leg and sighs? In Swedish? WHERE DO I GET MY TICKET?

So I approached the new HBO remake of Scenes from a Marriage with a significant amount of dubiosity. But … color me pleasantly surprised! It’s just the sort of thing I always like: talk talk talk talk talk and then nothing at all happens except maybe one person will walk into a room and rearrange a bowl of fruit and then uh-oh, recrimination, tears, silence. TIMES TEN.

It’s brought to you by the same people who brought you In Treatment, if that helps you figure out if it’s your thing or not; all of the dialogue has the same kind of heightened articulateness In Treatment was chock full of—everyone sounds super intelligent in that not-quite-realistic way. I mean, what, there’s not a single idiot in this town?

The two main performances (and there are hardly any others) by Jessica Chastain and Oscar Isaac are basically without flaw, so if that ‘s the sort of thing that revs you up, you’ll love it. They’re capital-A Actorly without being artificial, if that makes any sense, and it really is a thrill to watch people who are really good at this be really good at this.

Plus: it’s super-bleak! It makes a Thomas Hardy novel look like an Abbott and Costello routine. You should also go watch the original again (or for the first time?) and just make it a whole 12-hour “pursed lips and sobbing and looking forlornly out the wintry window” sort of weekend. You’re welcome!

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By Freia Fine Handpaints

About The Author

DG Strong took up knitting in 2014. He lives in Nashville with his sister, her rat terrier and a hound dog named Opal. He has a blog of drawings and faintly ridiculous rambling called The Psychopedia—there are worse ways to spend your afternoon.

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  • “…it’s super-bleak! It makes a Thomas Hardy novel look like an Abbott and Costello routine.”

    So good. So good you are…
    A “work nightmare” woke me up: Thank goodness some D.G. Strong Wit and Demeanor popped up on my Android screen for me to read while having soothing bowl of oatmeal at 5 a.m.

    Thank you.
    I’m all better now.

    • Oh the work nightmares. I am the Director of Development at a non profit and it’s gala season and even though it’s coming together really nicely, the nightmares started right on time. Somehow Richard Gere helping me pick the menu was really creepy.

  • Love this review! There are worse ways to spend one’s afternoon 🙂

  • Speaking of Bergman and bleak…Winter’s Light! When I crave bleak, I joyously watch it again. I feel the urge to take up lots of space here to continue on, and on, and on about Bergman but will stop here. Maybe another time, DG?

    • Your bookshelf is my bookshelf

  • Jeez. You want bleak: i saw the original in the early 70s, when I was in the midst of my own divorce. What was I thinking?

  • For a kinder and gentler bleak, I recently rewatched Marjorie Prime. It’s like Bergman for sissies.

  • Always enjoy your columns and the thoughts that you put into them. However, BLEAK is the last thing I want for entertainment. We’ve had enough of that the last 18 months to last a lifetime. Give me a few good laughs, snappy dialogue and a happy ending while I munch away on a bowl of popcorn and I can feel that all is well.

    • I’m with you. I’ve had enough bleak, give me some laughs!

    • Look, the best thing about super-bleak is you can watch it and then look at your OWN life and think, oh, things are FINE.

  • Really? Super-bleak?? I have to agree with PT that bleak is the last thing we need right now. On the other hand, You are hilarious, DG. I love reading your stuff. (I might even watch this movie.) Please stop putting stickers on yarn and just write! We missed you.

  • I was an exchange student in Denmark one winter. Every Saturday night, the film studies teacher at the school would show a movie. He, too, loved Bergman, and we had nothing but for months. Finally, in the depth of bleak November, we begged for anything else, so he gave us Roman Polanski’s “Shock.” That dead rabbit, still haunts my nightmares. ” The Seventh Seal” was a welcome relief after that. Needless to say, I watch only action-adventure flicks now.

    • Ditto here but to Norway during the coldest winter they’d ever had until then. Trust me when I say that you WILL understand all Scandinavian noir products after that. But DG, you made me laugh about Berman films, so you balanced out the universe.

      • Ditto here but to Sweden, in the 70’s. Did they just tell us all that to help us through? It was a grim, long winter and I cried when it was still snowing in May. But I learned to love Bergman and I still watch his movies on repeat to brush up on my Swedish before a return visit.

  • I could only watch part of the first episode. Grim, hard to watch. No thank you.

  • I love this letter.

  • Set details, camera angles, capital-D Dialogue, the players playing it well. So Good. Thanks DG. I would knit to this!

  • If you need a break from viewing marital bleakness you could always watch the SCTV classic “Martin Short as Jerry Lewis in Scenes from an Idiot’s Marriage”.

  • I saw a Bergman film with a friend, and was in my typical Wenders/Bergman trance throughout. When my friend suddenly leaned close and said in a tortured whisper, “I can’t stand another minute of this – I’ll meet you in the lobby!” I was astonished and whispered back, “But it’s almost over!” She iimmediately whisper-shouted, “How can you tell?!!” and bolted.

    • Oh my heavens your poor friend and her wide-open heart. Yes, some of us have no distance at all at times.

      • Hmm, I don’t know. She told me afterward: “YOU like movies that make you THINK. I like movies that ENTERTAIN me!” I took the hint and did not invite her to see any Wim Wenders (my absolute favorite director) films after that 😉

  • Loved the Thomas Hardy quip

  • I enjoy Thomas Hardy. Scandinavian depression leaves me entirely cold.

  • Oh, a man after my own heart. What’s not to love about meaningful sighs? Thanks for the recommendation!

  • Thanks for the recommendation! Of all things, I really love Bergman, but I find Hardy too bleak. Go figure.

  • In my youth I wanted to look like Bibi Andersen, before I moved on to Francoise Hardy. Haha! Love your columns.

  • My Ingmar Bergman Experience will always be Less Than without DG and his laser pointer. I must now learn to suffer in Swedish. *sigh*

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